“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”
― Samuel Johnson
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body,” 2 Peter 1:12-13
Worship is more about reminding us of what we know than it is about learning new things. Worship is where we practice relationship with God and where we are reminded about God and who He is as well as about who we are and how we fit in.
Worship occurs in the context of a Christian backdrop, whether or not every word is explicitly Christian. Without this Christian backdrop, those very same words may come off as merely psychological self-help and the same songs as simply some nice words with a tune and a beat.
This backdrop makes the assumption of a common background drawn from basic biblical knowledge and Christian principles learned from common stories, songs, and practices. New people coming in to worship and to faith begin to assimilate this background material as they join in.
For much of the 20th century we had a shared homogenous culture. When comedians referred to Shakespeare, people got the joke. Church attendance was something that respectful people did. Even non- Christian people had general biblical knowledge so they understood allusions like to David and Goliath. Since even non- church people who attended a service would share basic cultural understandings, it was easier for all to connect to the backdrop.
Today, much of this shared cultural experience has broken down. Church attendance is not the norm. A generation is being raised up with no biblical knowledge.
Contrast this with a church world in which leaders are trying to create an experience that is attractive to people that are far from God. In order to be engaging and up-to-date, they abandon practices that they consider to be old-fashioned or out of style. Many of these church traditions are no longer useful or relevant. Some are even detrimental. They should discard these. In the process, however, they may inadvertently abandon things that should be a part of the backdrop of worship.
A church I served had a dynamic children’s ministry featuring a cool, entertaining, child friendly activity- complete with all of the bells and whistles every Sunday morning. During the Christmas season, a mother told me of her first grade daughter coming home from school, really excited at having learned a new song. She thought it would be a great song to teach to the people at church. The name of the song was “Away in a Manger”.
In an effort to be new and fresh, some churches no longer use the old stories and songs. After all, “everybody already knows them”. So cute, humorous stories and upbeat songs replace traditionally taught Bible stories and songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Jesus Loves Me” are pushed to the side.
The problem is that people aren’t born knowing these stories and songs. So teach them. If we don’t build this heritage into people, there will be less and less richness to the texture of the common background that is foundational to Christianity and to worship. We will all be the poorer for it.
So teach the important truths of the faith. Teach it in new ways. Teach it in tried and true ways.
As Marva Dawn pointed out, “When the Psalmist said, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song’ he immediately proceeded to quote an old one.”
People do need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed- , but this assumes that they have been instructed in the first place. Please don’t neglect building the foundation. We have a rich heritage. Don’t throw it away.